Four Strategies for Starting Import/Export Businesses

The Australian import/export industries are worth hundreds of billions of dollars every year. Behind these enormous figures are large multinational companies, medium sized enterprises, as well as small businesses. With lots of research, a clear business plan, effective relationship building, and lots of persistence, anyone can start an import/export business provided they can find the right product and match it to a market. From starting with a great product or market, to good logistics and storage, such as ensuring that you have adequate shelving systems, these are four practical strategies for import/export success.

Find a Product or Find a Market

Whether you’re bringing a product you’ve already found to a market, or finding a product to meet a demand in the market you’ve identified, the key reasons for importing or exporting are usually one or more of the following three:

  • Lack of local producers – whether it’s due to geographical issues, culture, or anything else, there are a lack of local manufacturers and producers for the product, making it idea for people to source it from overseas.
  • Luxury or premium products – these products have a specific selling point based on their country of origin. Common examples are Russian caviar or champagne from France.
  • Cheaper products – some products are cheaper because of local costs of labour, natural resources, and other advantages, making it ideal for importing or exporting.

These are the starting points when thinking about how your product may have potential in a local or overseas marketm depending on whether you’re planning to import or export.

You’ll also need to consider the role you want to take:

  • Export trading companies source producers, wholesalers and manufacturers for an identified overseas (or local) market.
  • Export management companies help local business find markets overseas and take care of the whole import/export process from dealing and distributing, to marketing and shipping.
  • Traditional importers/exporters aren’t directly aligned with any specific good or company. They look for products as well as markets and work from both ends to make a profit on the margins.

Build a Network

Once you’ve identified your product or market, it’s time to start building a network.

  • The internet will be one of the best places to start. Make a list of companies and partners you might be interested in working with. These can be manufacturers, distributors, retailers, or even other importers/exporters.
  • Prepare an introductory email to send to these partners. This should emphasise your local knowledge, sales skills, and enthusiasm for the product(s).
  • Start connecting and letting them know how you might like to do business with them.

Protect Yourself

Local laws can range from country to country, and there are international norms for imports/exports. Always do your research and obtain legal advice where necessary. Some of the areas you should find out about are:

  • Local trade laws
  • Customs requirements
  • Shipping laws


If your role will involve holding and storage goods, you need to think about getting enough commercial quality storage space for doing this and how you will move and ship these goods. Pallet racking is one of the most efficient ways to make use of warehouse space. Other things to get educated about are logistics issues, warehouse management, and how to manage inventory.

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